Milk and cream cans are some of the most common dairy antiques. Until the adoption of farm bulk tanks and tanker trucks in the 1940's and 50's milk was stored, cooled and transported in cans. Of course the problem with milk cans was their lack of insulation. On warm days the milk in the cans also became warm and started to sour. Companies did sell canvas jackets for milk cans to help insulate them but they were not commonly used. Milk cans came in 5, 8 and 10 gallon sizes with the 10 gallon being the most common. They were available with plug covers or umbrella covers. The plug covers had a handle in the middle but also had a depression that could hold milk and water. The umbrella covers were smooth on top. Typically the umbrella covers cost a little more. Usually a sheet of vegetable parchment was placed under the lid to help seal the can and keep cream from slopping up under the lid. Since the cream rose to the top of the can during shipment and it was the most valuable part of the milk any leakage was very costly. Extra heavy milk cans were available to stand up to the wear and tear of rail shipment. Early cans had riveted seams and handles while later milk cans were welded.
The 1922 Montgomery Ward catalog and the 1927 Sears and Roebuck catalog listed riveted milk cans but by the 1935-36 Montgomery Wards catalog the milk cans were advertised as welded. All the milk and cream cans pictured above are welded. The milk can on the left in the back row is a 10 gallon can with a plug cover. It is stamped D. C. C. ASS’N. REG. CAL. This can was from the Dairymen’s Cooperative Creamery Association located in Tulare, California. A blank can like this was priced at $3.70 in the 1935-36 Montgomery Ward catalog. The middle milk can in the back row is a 5 gallon can with an umbrella cover. It is stamped C C & B CO SACTO REG CAL. This milk can was used by the Crystal Cream and Butter Company of Sacramento, California. It also has the dairy name painted on the shoulder of the can. This milk can was from a dairy in Colfax, California. A blank milk can like this one was $2.75 in the 1935-36 Montgomery Ward catalog. On top of this milk can is a strainer. These were large funnels with a filter disc in the bottom. They allowed one to pour milk from a milk pail into the milk can and filter out any dirt, hair or feed that got into the milk. These were priced in the 1935-36 Montgomery Ward catalog from 39 cents to $1.49.
Cream cans were smaller than milk cans since the cream was a more concentrated product. Cream cans came in 4, 8, 10 and 12 quart sizes. The lids were usually held on by a chain and some lids were designed to force the air out of the can to keep the cream from churning into butter during shipment. The cream can on the right in the back row is a 12 quart can and is stamped A D CO REG CAL. We believe this can was used by the American Dairy Company of San Jose, California. The cream can on the left in the front row is an 8 quart cream can and is stamped B D D CO OAK REG CAL. This cream can was from the Borden’s Dairy Delivery Company and used in their Oakland, California creamery. It was manufactured by the Buhl Manufacturing Company of Detroit, Michigan. In addition to Buhl Manufacturing Company, Sturges & Burn Manufacturing Company of Chicago, Illinois was also a large manufacturer of milk and cream cans. The can on the right in the front row is a 4 quart cream can. It is stamped with only G S. We believe this was a Golden State cream can.
Bulk shipment of milk actually started in California in 1938. The cow was milked into a bucket, the milk was dumped into a tank, then was pumped over a surface cooler and into an insulated storage tank. It was then hauled to the creamery in a tanker truck. Bulk shipment of milk first occured on the east coast in 1948 in Connecticut and 1949 in South Carolina. The reason for the early start of bulk shipment in California was the larger size of the herds. As the number of milk cans that had to be handled, washed and maintained increased, bulk handling of milk became more appealing to a dairyman.
Click here to go to the page with butter churns manufactured by the Sturges & Burns Manufacturing Company.
What about the buttermilk? Typically in the early 1900's it as well as the skim milk left when the cream was separated was a waste product fed to livestock. Most of the energy in milk is in the cream and was stored in the form of butter. Plus butter had a longer shelf life during the time before refrigeration. Thus a lot of the skim and buttermilk was fed to animals. On the left above is a one gallon Red Wing poultry drinking fount and buttermilk feeder. It was filled and covered with a tray and then flipped over and set on the ground for the chickens to drink out of. Buttermilk and skim milk was also fed to cattle and hogs. Red Wing made these stoneware poultry feeders in half gallon, gallon and two gallon sizes. Sears, Roebuck and Company sold the half gallon and gallon sizes in their 1927 catalog for 85 cents and $1.15.
What makes butter yellow? It depends on how the cow stores vitamin A or its precursor carotene. Milk fat high in carotene is a golden yellow color while milk fat with less carotene is a lighter, white color. The breed of the cow has an effect. Guernsey cattle are known for their golden milk fat while Holstein cows tend to have a white cream. It also depends on the feed the cow is eating. Traditionally in the spring when the cows were out on pasture the cream was a deep yellow and in the winter when the cows were inside and eating hay the cream had less of a yellow color. This same effect is seen in the yellow color of chicken egg yolks. Consumers preferred the deep yellow color so butter makers early on began adding dyes to make the butter color more consistent year round. Prior to 1907 some of these butter colorings were based on coal tar, which was a common source of dyes. The passage of the Federal Pure Food and Drug Act on June 30, 1906 prohibited the manufacture, sale or transportation of adulterated, misbranded, poisonous or deleterious foods and drugs. The use of color additives that could deceive the purchaser such as hiding damage or inferior product was no longer allowed. In terms of the 1906 act most butter color manufacturers felt that their coal tar based products were not affected since the product was not inferior, adulterated or poisonous. However in 1907 the government issued Federal Food Inspection Decision No. 76, which only allowed 7 coal tar based dyes. Of the seven allowed, none of the orange or yellow dyes were fat soluble and would work as a butter color. Because of this decision all butter color sold in the United States became vegetable based. The most common source of color was often an extract from the seeds of the annatto tree found in Latin and South America. Often butter color advertisements of the period would refer to "no tar" or "no mud" as a reference to the absence of coal tar (picture) (picture).
The small bottle in the center held Dandelion Brand Butter Color manufactured by Wells & Richardson Company of Burlington, Vermont. The price on this bottle was 35 cents for three ounces. However in the mid-1940's Sears was selling the same size for 29 cents. The label has instructions in three languages. This bottle has a cork stopper and on the base is an O in a square, which was the maker's mark for Owens Bottle Company of Toledo, Ohio. This would date the bottle between 1911 and 1929. On the right above is an early Roseville, Ohio one gallon stoneware jug from Chr. Hansen's Laboratory of Little Falls, New York that advertised rennet extract, butter color and cheese color. Butter color was added in very small amounts, usually only 10-20 drops per gallon of cream, during the churning process. This resulted in a very consistent deep yellow color in the butter that buyers preferred.
For many years the law did not allow margarine to be colored yellow at the time of purchase to distinguish it from butter. To get around this, margarine producers sold dye tablets with the margarine and the user could color the margarine at home after it was purchased. In most states the ban on coloring of margarine finally ended shortly after WWII, however Wisconsin did not allow margarine to be colored until 1967. At one time the state of New Hampshire required margarine to be colored pink to distinguish it from butter.
Most of the value of the milk was in the cream or milk fat. However the milk fat was a very small fraction of the milk, usually between 3-7%. Assuming all milk was equal was not a safe assumption. Just because one cow gave more milk did not mean that cow was making more money. The dairyman needed to know the fat content of the milk so he could feed and mange his cows properly. In fact this 1904 advertisement warns of robber cows, cows that eat their share but don't produce much butterfat. Likewise creameries could not just buy milk based on volume. Dishonest dairymen could add water or skim some of the cream off prior to selling it. Creameries also needed to know the fat content of the milk they were buying.
In 1890, S. M. Babcock wrote a paper detailing an economical and practical test to measure milk fat that could be run on the farm or in the lab. His method entailed mixing a small amount of milk with an equal amount of sulfuric acid and then centrifuging the mix in special glass vials with a thin graduated neck. The acid would digest everything but the fat. Since the fat was less dense it would rise to the neck of the vial and could be measured. Spinning the samples in a centrifuge would speed up the separation. This test became known as the Babcock Test.
The Official Babcock Tester pictured above was used to spin the samples. Although this tester did not have a patent date on it, a patent was issued on April 21, 1903 for the drive mechanism on this style of tester. The patent was issued to Harvey Feldmeier of Little Falls, New York. Harvey Feldmeier had also been issued a patent on April 10, 1900 for a larger, cast iron milk tester that was hand cranked. That one came in various sizes. We have seen 6, 8, 10 and a 12 bottle models. Steam turbine driven models were available up to 36 bottles. Feldmeier assigned both of these patents to D. H. Burrel and Company, also in Little Falls, New York. D. H. Burrel Babcock testers will usually be embossed FACILE. Babcock testers sold by Cornish, Curtis and Greene and later the Creamery Package Mfg. Co. will usually be embossed OFFICIAL BABCOCK TESTER. In 1904 Cornish, Curtis and Greene of Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin sold four tube Babcock testers like one pictured above (including the vials and tools) for 5 dollars and a two tube model was 4 dollars. Sears, Roebuck and Company also sold them in their 1904 catalog priced at $4.90 for the four tube model and $3.90 for the two tube model.
After the development of the Babcock test, cow testing associations were formed to aid dairymen in determining the butterfat production of their cows. Instead of a dairyman testing his own cows, an independent cow tester would come to the farm and measure and test the milk at regular intervals. Often feed consumption was also measured. The first cow testing association was formed in Michigan in 1906. Maine and New York followed a few years later and California formed its first cow testing association in 1909. In 1925 the rules under which the tests were conducted were standardized and in 1926 the cow testing associations became known as the Dairy Herd Improvement Association, which still functions today. Click here and here to see pictures of early cow testers. California required that milk and cream testers be licensed by the state and take a test to prove their proficiency. Click here to see a copy of a 1925 milk and cream tester's license.
The Babcock test bottles pictured are still used today. The size of the bottle neck will vary depending on what is being tested. The two bottles shown are for testing milk or cream. The Babcock bottle on the left is for regular whole milk and has a narrower neck and is usually calibrated from 0 to 8% fat. The Babcock bottle on the right is for testing cream and the neck is relatively large and marked from 0 to 50% since cream has a high fat content. Babcock bottles for testing skim milk will have a double neck. Since skim milk is so low in fat content the measuring neck has to be very small in diameter. A second, larger neck is needed to get the sample in the bottle to do the test (picture).
If a farmer milked cows then they needed to be fed. Good nutrition was important so the cow could produce a lot of milk with good butterfat. The first tool on the left is a hand corn planter. Corn was a good source of energy and dairymen often grew corn to feed their livestock. This planter is stenciled: The Acme Hand Corn Planter Manufactured by the Potato Implement Co. Traverse City, Mich. It has a patent date of September 11, 1900, although this basic style of corn planter was in use well before 1900. We believe that this patent covered the seed drop mechanism and was granted to Paulus Van Deinse of Greenville, Michigan. The planter was held with the handles apart as in the picture and pushed into the soil. In the process a metal slide would grab a seed from the metal hopper and drop it into a tube running down the side of the planter. The handles were then pushed together and the tip would open and the seed would drop into the soil. The farmer then removed the planter from the soil and moved to the next spot. In the process he would use his foot to firm the soil over the seed he just planted. When you consider that farmers today plant around 30,000 corn seeds to the acre this hand corn planter was a very slow process. The cost for a corn planter similar to this was 56 cents in the 1902 Sears and Roebuck catalog. Adding a pumpkin seed attachment raised the price to 76 cents.
The tool on the right is a hay knife or hay saw. Before hay was baled it was harvested long and placed in hay stacks, or it was lifted up into barn lofts with slings or forks. When this loose hay settled it was very difficult to remove from the stack. The hay knife was used to cut off small portions of hay that could then be feed to the cows. The knife had two handles, both on the same side, so that one could work close to the face of the stack without hitting their hands. The design for this style of hay knife was patented by George Weymouth of Dresden, Maine on March 7, 1871. The patent was reissued in 1882 and 1886 and both of those patents were assigned to Hiram Holt. His company, The Hiram Holt Company of East Wilton, Maine, sold them using the name of the Lightning Hay Knife. The cost for a Lightning Hay Knife was 50 cents in the 1897 Sears and Roebuck catalog.
Pictured above is a Leavitt's Dehorning Clipper. This device was used to remove the horns from adult cattle. All breeds of dairy cattle are born with horns. In the early 1900's farms had only a small number of cows and generally the cattle were not dehorned. In fact the shape and set of the horns were often evaluated when cattle were judged. Click here to see a picture of the 1948 grand champion Ayrshire cow. Ayrshires were known for their tall upright horns. Horn weights often were attached to the ends of the horns to change the set of the horns and even them out for a more pleasing look. These were weights that were clamped to the ends of the horns to force them to grow downwards. They came in weights from a half pound up to one and a half pounds (picture). By adding more weight to the horn that was growing taller, the horns could be trained to an even level. There also was a setup to lift the horns if the animal was in a stall (picture). It was advertised to work in 2 to 6 weeks.
However if a cow or bull learned to use her horns aggressively against other animals or people they became a danger. It was then necessary to remove the horns. These clippers were over 3 feet in length and could cut a horn up to three inches in diameter. They used a rack and pinion system of gearing to generate a huge amount of force to close the blades. They were patented by Harry Leavitt of Hammond, Illinois on February 12, 1895. The handles on the clippers list the manufacturer as Leavitt Manufacturing Company of Urbana, Illinois. Sears, Roebuck and Company advertised the Leavitt's Dehorning Clippers in their 1902 catalog and challenged the world to produce a clipper with better merits. The steel was advertised as unable to tarnish and easy to clean which would prevent blood poisoning that was common with other clippers. The price in 1902 was $5.25.
Now days almost all dairy cattle are dehorned at a very young age often using heat. This is much less stressful than dehorning when the horns are larger. Farms have more cattle in less space and it is just too dangerous to work around cattle with horns, both for the people and the other cows in the herd. There are beef breeds of cattle that are polled or naturally do not have horns. This trait is controlled by a single gene and the polled condition is dominant. This means if you breed a horned cow to a polled bull (or vice versa) the offspring would all be born without horns. If the polled gene could be introduced into dairy breeds this would save the labor of dehorning and the stress on the cattle.
This is a Surge bucket milker. Other bucket milkers collected the milk in a can that was set on the ground a short ways away from the cow. The milk had to travel in a hose from the cow to the can. This milker was unique in that it was hung from a leather surcingle or strap draped over the cows back and hung under the cow's belly, just in front of the udder (picture). The bucket was attached by a hose to a vacuum pump. This meant that the milk only traveled a very short distance in the rubber hose to the bucket thus making this unit very easy to clean. The weight of the milk in the bucket prevented the teat cups from creeping up on the teats and blocking the flow of milk. In addition if the teat cups fell off they would not hit the ground and suck foreign material into the milk since they were supported by the surcingle. Also the bucket being so close to the teats resulted in a reserve of vacuum that resulted in a more even milk out. The unit was advertised as having a tug and pull action similar to a suckling calf. The name Surge Milker came from the movement of the machine since it had a tendency to surge back and forth as it milked.
This milking machine was invented by Herbert McCornack of Glen Ridge, New Jersey. He applied for patents in November of 1923 on both the milking machine itself and also the process of milking with this machine. He was granted two patents on May 17, 1932 for the milking machine and the patent for the milking process was issued on April 11, 1936. It is interesting that it took nine years for the patent to be granted. This style machine was first sold in 1924 soon after McCornack came up with the idea and remained on the market until 1999. The earliest machines were sold by the Pine Tree Milking Machine Company. McCornack had offered his invention to numerous companies but had little luck in selling his idea until the Pine Tree Milking Machine Company decided to produce them. These early machines had teat cups that had rings on them, not smooth like the later teat cups. Early milkers also had a seam in the middle of the bucket while later machines were seamless. The Surge milker received great press coverage in 1933 when Admiral Byrd took three Guernsey cows and two Surge milkers on his expedition to Antarctica.
Later these milking machines were sold by Babson Brothers Company of Chicago, Illinois, which eventually became Surge. Well over one million units were produced and during the 1940's and 50's it was one of the most popular milking machines. When this milking machine was first introduced, competitors claimed that it would make the cows sway backed. Judging by the immense popularity of the Surge milker this was not the case. Even today parts are still available and it is used at shows, fairs and small farms. After the cow was milked the milk in the bucket was poured into cans or tanks. With the introduction of pipeline milking systems these older bucket milkers became less popular. In pipeline systems the milk flowed via pipeline directly to the tank. This resulted in more sanitary milk since it was always contained in the pipeline or tank. Pipelines also allowed more cows to be milked per man since the milk did not have to carried and dumped by hand.
When were milking machines first introduced? There are reports as early as 300 BC of Egyptians using hollow wheat stems inserted in the teats to milk cows. Many early milking machine patents required a hollow tube to be inserted into the teat. While this saved the labor of hand milking it was not too good for the well being of the cow and the quality of the milk. It was very easy to introduce bacteria into the teat when inserting the tube. One of the earliest patents that used the concept of vacuum to milk the cows without the insertion of a tube into the teat was granted to Anna Baldwin of Newark, New Jersey on February 18, 1879. She made an elastic sack with projections for the teats and connected it by a hose to the suction end of a water pump (picture). Working the pump lever pulled the milk out of the udder and into the bucket. It probably did not work to well but the idea would become the basis for future milking machines.
Click here to go to the page with the Melotte cream separator also imported by the Babson Brothers Company.
Pictured above is a drawing of a milk cooler and aerator. Prior to refrigeration this was a common way to cool milk. Very early on milk was often delivered warm. It was delivered twice a day, just before meals and was intended to be used right away. However as bacterial growth in the milk became better understood there was more interest in cooling the milk. The temperature of the milk needed to be lowered soon after milking to prevent bacterial growth and subsequent spoilage. The faster the milk was cooled and the lower the final temperature of the milk meant the shelf life of the milk or cream was increased. Milk comes from the cow at 101 to 102 degrees and ideally the temperature needed to be brought below 50 degrees to slow down bacterial growth. Nowadays milk is cooled to temperatures around 38 degrees, just above freezing.
The cooler pictured above utilized the principle of counter current exchange. The cold water entered from the bottom and ran in the circular coils up to the top where it was discharged. The warm milk was added at the top and dripped down the coils to the bottom trough where it was collected. This meant that the warmest milk was coming in contact with the warmest water. As the milk moved down the coils it became cooler but the water it was contacting also was cooler. This resulted in a very efficient transfer of heat from the milk to the water. The temperature of the milk often could be brought to within a few degrees of the incoming water. If spring water was used, the milk could be cooled to the 60 degree range. If iced water was used then the temperature could be dropped even more.
Another function of this device was aeration of the milk. Due to the nature of the cow's stomachs any volatile compounds in the feed will be released in the stomach and absorbed in the blood. These compounds then pass to the udder where they will go into the milk. For example if the cows grazed wild onions the odor of the onions would be passed to the milk. These feed and animal flavors were objectionable to consumers. When a cooler and aerator was used the milk passed down the coils and these odors were released to the atmosphere and removed from the milk.
The milk cooler and aerator pictured above was patented by Charles Skidd of Kenosha, Wisconsin on May 19, 1908. It was sold by the Charles Skidd Manufacturing Company, also in Kenosha, under the Chilly King Cooler trademark. He advertised that the milk could be cooled to the temperature of the water that was used. These coolers were made in various capacities from 350 pounds per hour to 1500 pounds per hour. The were fairly expensive. In 1913 the 350 pound cooler was 25 dollars and the 1500 pound cooler was 125 dollars. The company also sold a creamery model that was designed to cool milk from 160 degrees after pasteurization. Those units ranged in size from 1000 pounds per hour up to 6000 pounds per hour.
Other popular milk coolers were the Champion Milk Cooler made by the Champion Milk Cooler Company of Cortland, New York and the Star Milk Cooler made by the Star Milk Cooler Company of Haddonfield, New Jersey. There were also milk coolers that could be added to the outlet of a cream separator to cool the cream as it left the separator.